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Arabs to target Israel at U.N. atom body, resist West
VIENNA (Reuters) - Arab states pledged on Thursday to step up pressure on Israel to join a global anti-nuclear arms pact, defying U.S. warnings their action could harm Middle East peace talks.
Signalling they were in no mood to compromise, Arab member nations of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also sharply criticised a report by its head on Israeli Nuclear Capabilities, saying it was "weak" and "devoid of substance."
The United States and its Western allies urged the group to withdraw a planned resolution at the IAEA's annual assembly next week calling on Israel to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty and put all of its atomic sites under the U.N. body's watch.
Israel, widely assumed to have the Middle East's only atomic arsenal, and the United States see Iran as the region's main proliferation threat, accusing it of seeking to develop atomic weapons. Tehran rejects the charge.
Israel's envoy to the IAEA said the Arab push was politically motivated and it was a "sovereign right" to decide whether or not to accede to the treaty, diplomats at a closed-door meeting of the agency's board said.
Arab states won narrow backing for a similar resolution at the 2009 general conference of the 151-nation IAEA, but the United States has lobbied hard to avoid a repeat this year.
The U.S. envoy to the IAEA said the non-binding resolution targeting Israel would undermine broader efforts in 2012 towards establishing a region free of weapons of mass destruction, and could also upset Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.
"It would do nothing but send a negative signal to the larger peace process," Ambassador Glyn Davies told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board.
Israel has neither confirmed nor denied having nuclear bombs under a policy of ambiguity to deter its many regional foes. It has said last year's resolution was backed by adversaries that question its right to exist, such as Iran.
ARABS SLAM AMANO REPORT
"The problem with having a big knockdown, dragged-out, bloody, divisive fight on this issue next week...is that it would tend to undercut both of those objectives," Davies said, referring to the 2012 meeting and the U.S.-backed peace process.
But Arab states, addressing the board meeting, did not back down, urging IAEA member states to support the resolution.
The 2009 resolution called on IAEA head Yukiya Amano to write a report on how to implement it. He published the report earlier this month, saying he had invited Israel to consider joining the NPT. Israel dismissed the idea.
The Arab statement said Amano's report was "weak and disappointing, devoid of any substance and not up to the typical level of the Agency's reporting," in unusually blunt comments.
It added: "The report neither contained an assessment (of) the Israeli nuclear capabilities, nor did the Agency try to obtain any information about these capabilities, especially concerning a military dimension."
The Non-Aligned Movement of mainly developing countries voiced some backing for the Arab view, saying Israel's nuclear capability poses a "serious" threat to regional security, but they stopped short of saying they would back the resolution.
Israel, which would have to forswear atomic arms if it signed the NPT, says it needs full Middle East peace first.
The United States alarmed Israel in May by backing Egypt's initiative for the 2012 meeting, but Washington has since pledged to keep the Jewish state from being singled out.
(Editing by Charles Dick)
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